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Introduction: High-skilled Migration and the Global Knowledge Economy
Today, knowledge is the basis of economic growth. It creates virtuous cycles of unlimited ideas. Human mobility enhances that cycle of scientific innovation, because it allows high-skilled individuals to pair their knowledge with that of others by working in countries where they can find the right economic, social, and policy resources. As such, there appears to be an intrinsic relationship between knowledge and innovation and human mobility and migration. Aboites and Díaz further this idea by arguing that “in this era of globalization, the knowledge economy is supported by knowledge mobility." The relationship between these two factors has become more evident in the past decade, as developed economies experienced a talent shortage just as human capital became as important as financial capital for enabling economic growth and competitiveness.
This hypothesis is supported by the facts on the ground. During the past two decades, the share of migrants with higher education grew at an annual rate of 1.5 times the rate of general migration. In developed economies, the arrival of highly skilled migrants drives technological innovation and patenting potential. As Peri states, the mobility of high-skilled workers toward the poles of innovation contributes to global science, and consequently to long-term global growth. By the same token, Bernstein et al. find that immigrant inventors foster the importation of ideas and technologies and facilitate the diffusion of knowledge. In this vein, Gaspar Olvera examines the small number of countries which together concentrate 70% of all high- skilled migrants—the U.K, Canada, Australia, and the U.S., with the last containing 50% of all high-skilled migrants.
So, what is a high-skilled migrant? This population comprises students, university professors, researchers, professionals, CEOs, and technicians, among others, who look for countries whose environment supports innovation development, knowledge, and productivity spillovers and are conducive to the creation of technological clusters, centers of innovation, research universities, and knowledge-based industries that demand their skills. Some common areas related to the knowledge economy are health, math, computers, life science, physical science, and engineering.
Moreover, immigrants drive innovation in both sending and receiving countries through entrepreneurial or inventive activity or collaboration with native workers in their home countries. As such, Duleep, Jaeger, and Reget argue that migrants are flexible economic actors who may be more willing to engage in disruptive business models. Kautto adds that in developed countries, migrant entrepreneurs have founded more than 40% of the Fortune 500 companies, which create innovative products and services that foster the knowledge economy. In terms of inventive activity, the role of high-skilled migrants becomes even more relevant because, as stated by Jones, the long-run growth of an economy is strongly related to the share of workers specializing in research and development (R&D).
More recently, high-skilled migrants from emerging economies are playing an increasingly important role in innovation processes, and many of them are patent generators in developed nations. Coda-Zabetta et al. recognize the role of migrant inventors in the success of the largest technological clusters in English-speaking countries and in Europe. And these migrants transfer technology back home through enterprise development or by providing support to research institutions in their native countries, since they possess the ability to assimilate and apply knowledge. Thus, they become crucial for their home countries’ absorptive capacities.